Spanish In Our Daily Vernacular

by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

The first time we ate in a Mexican restaurant was about two decades ago when we visited our daughter during parent’s weekend at her university.  It happened to be the weekend of May 5th, which that date is known as Cinco de Mayo, in Spanish and Mexican culture. It was my daughter’s idea to eat at a popular Mexican chain restaurant that was a favorite of many of the university students because of the reasonable prices and tasty selections. After that visit, we have made some of the dishes at home now, which include both the hard- and soft-shell tacos, that can be filled with veggies and the meat of your choice.  Thinking about Spanish culture many of the words we use in our language has derived from their language and we may not even realize it. Thinking about weather forecasts and we might hear the word tornado, the funnel shaped cloud that leaves a path of destruction in its wake. This word comes from the Spanish word “tronada” or thunderstorm as its origin. When looking at a picture book of exotic animals, surely a page would be devoted to the armadillo, a strange creature that looks well protected with his body covering. Sure, enough its name comes from a Spanish adjective “armado,” as being armed and the suffix “illo” means little one. There we have it, a little armored tank-like creature.

As a fan of watching Westerns with my dad when I was a little girl, many of his favorites were the Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers, Gene Audrey and of course John Wayne films. Throughout these series or films many of the cowboy and Western dialogue contained words that became familiar and were from Spanish vocabulary. If a cowboy was tired after working to bring in the cattle he would lay down for a bit of a siesta, which we knew meant a nap. To round up that evasive steer or wild pony the cowboy would rope him with his skill using a lasso, a long line made out of hide and would be twirled into a loop to catch the animal.  The word lasso, comes from the Spanish word for ribbon, which is a “lazo.” Even the place where a cowboy lived and worked, on a ranch, has a Spanish root, rancho. This was a place that cowhands would sleep and eat, but eventually described the home of the landowner that hired the cowhands. One of the most dreaded happenings a ranch hand could experience would be a stampede of cattle or wild horses coming at him. Today we might use that word to describe a rush of shoppers trying to buy a limited number of advertised bargains for their holiday shopping, or a group of music fans at the sighting of their singing idol exiting the concert arena.  That word has its roots in a Spanish verb “estampar” which translated means to stamp, and it could describe the sound of thousands of animal feet rushing at once. After awhile this word was adapted to English and changed to stampede.  And lastly, we have often heard in old Westerns when the group of cowboys wanted to leave someplace in a hurry one of them would shout that we’d better Vamoose! meaning we should leave quickly. In issues to come, we’ll explore other words that come from a host of nations around the globe that we may not even realize how many have become part of our English vernacular.